After battling for six innings, striking out six, picking off three runners, walking five and allowing three runs and five hits, Sage Hill starter Jack Heffron (4-3) anxiously waited for the end.
Sage Hill (15-6), making its first postseason appearance since 2004, flirted with disaster before moving on to play Apple Valley Christian (18-2) in the second round Tuesday.
Bell-Jeff (9-12) jumped to a comfortable 3-0 lead on Daniel Diaz’s one-run double. But it was too comfy for Bell-Jeff Coach Hector Perez’s liking.
Perez said his young team had experienced early leads before, only to lose them in the later innings.
The big letdown soon followed. Bell-Jeff, the third-place team out of the Santa Fe League, committed four errors and its pitchers balked five times, with three runs came across on balks.
Heffron performed at his best in trouble, keeping the Lightning within striking distance by recording crucial strikeouts.
On offense, Nick Ongaro figured it was his time to step up offensively.
The junior delivered the biggest hit of the game during a five-run fourth inning. Ongaro, facing a full count, gave Sage Hill its first lead, 5-3, going the other way to right field with a two-run triple.
“It was great, because I haven’t had one of those [in] a while,” said Ongaro, who went two for two, walked twice and scored three runs. “This is just an offensive team. We truly believe that we can bounce back pretty much from anything.”
Sage Hill has proved that all year, en route to claiming its first Academy League title.
Heffron clamped down, making sure the season continued.
With the Guards up, 1-0, after the first inning, Heffron found himself in precarious situations the next two innings. He came away unscathed in the second, his wild pitch with a runner trying to steal second costing him no more than falling behind in the count.
The wild pitch ricocheted off the backstop right to catcher Dusty Orrantia, who had a chance to gun down Jonathan Montaban. He fired a one-hopper to shortstop Sean Vogel, who tagged out Montaban for the second out.
One pitch later, Heffron struck out Tory Tunzi to end the inning.